FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The Buffalo Bills lost their last two games, dropped their past nine against the New England Patriots and are fading fast as injuries damage their once impressive chances in the AFC East.
Still, there is reason for optimism.
``We're in first place, no matter how you look at it,'' punter Brian Moorman said. ``And so are they.''
And so are the New York Jets. All three are 5-3. Oh, and the Miami Dolphins are just one game behind at 4-4.
The AFC East, dominated this decade by the Patriots, is up for grabs. That makes Sunday's game between Buffalo and New England - and every other game between division opponents - critical.
``I don't want to say it's a must win, but it might be because we're tied for the division lead with two other teams and the Patriots are one of them,'' defensive end Chris Kelsay said. ``It'll be tough if we drop this game, but the sky's the limit if we win.''
two games to Miami and New York. It can ill afford another AFC East loss. New England, which faces the Jets and Dolphins in its two games after the Bills, is 1-1 in the division.
``You look at three back-to-back and start with a team that's started well and a team that's got a lot of new faces that we haven't seen before,'' Patriots fullback Heath Evans said. ``It's going to be a tough challenge for us.''
At the same point a year ago, the division standings were much different: Patriots (9-0), Bills (4-4), Jets (1-8), Dolphins (0-8).
``These teams, in recent history, are tired of basically being the underdogs in the division,'' Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. ``You know it had to happen someday where they all smell the chance of victory. ... Everybody's hungry and everybody's looking forward to the same thing.''
Quarterback changes are the most obvious reasons for the much tighter race this year. The Jets added Brett Favre, the Dolphins picked up Chad Pennington when Favre went to New York, and the Patriots lost Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the opener.
Second-year pro Trent Edwards has made progress for Buffalo. His 68 percent completion percentage is fifth in the league and his average gain of 7.7 yards per reception is sixth. He took over as the starter for J.P. Losman in the fourth game last season after a 38-7 loss at New England.
very efficient,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``Even last year when he stepped in he seemed to have a good presence on the field and good command of the offense.''
But Edwards has struggled recently with three interceptions, two lost fumbles and a safety in his last five quarters. In his first six games, five of them wins, he threw a total of two interceptions, lost two fumbles and led three straight comeback wins in the fourth quarter.
Edwards has struggled since sustaining a concussion against Arizona on Oct. 5.
Edwards' deep threat, Lee Evans, is averaging 19.4 yards per reception, tops in the AFC among players with at least 20 catches. He'll be facing a secondary hit hard by injuries.
``I don't see them as vulnerable at all,'' Edwards said. ``I never really see them out of position.''
The Patriots routed the Bills the last time they met, scoring on their first seven possessions and winning 56-10 at Buffalo to improve to 10-0 last season.
``I believe that the fact that they've beaten us and beaten us soundly definitely has an effect,'' Bills coach Dick Jauron said. ``I'm sure it has an effect on them, too, in terms of their confidence in playing us.''
are sidelined.
The Bills, once 4-0, fell back to the AFC East pack with a 1-3 skid.
``We know we can play at a much higher level than that,'' Lee Evans said. ``It's just been kind of frustrating because we think we have killed ourselves a lot of times. But, moving forward, we're still confident that we know what we can do.''
The Patriots hurt themselves in Sunday night's 18-15 loss at Indianapolis when tight end David Thomas was called for a key personal foul penalty for a late block in the fourth quarter. And Belichick made questionable decisions that cost two timeouts and left them with none for the last 11 minutes.
But Buffalo hasn't won in Foxborough since 2000 and has no players left from that team. Only seven remain from the last Bills team to beat the Patriots, 31-0 in the 2003 season opener. That was Kelsay's first game with Buffalo.
``For the older guys in here, it's fuel for the fire,'' he said. ``You've got to use it as motivation. I know when I'm waking up in the mornings, after I say my prayer, the first thing that pops in my mind is beating the Patriots.''
The Bills have a chance to end their eight-season playoff drought, the longest in franchise history. The Patriots, in the last seven seasons, have won six division titles and three Super Bowls.
But this year the AFC East race is wide open.
e to step up,'' Heath Evans said. ``We've been able to do that in the past. It's too bad the past really doesn't mean anything, so we've got to find a way to do it again.''

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